A business coordinator at a power company in western Georgia told The Daily Caller Friday afternoon that workers from his electric-utility employer were not permitted to help restore power to New York consumers because they would not join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).
The revelation comes on the heels of similar stories TheDC has reported about power crews from Alabama and Florida who volunteered to fix downed power lines after Hurricane Sandy left millions in the Northeastern United States in the dark this week.
“We’re not a large utility, so we were only able to send up two or three crews,” Glenn Cunningham, a business continuity coordinator with Diverse Power in LaGrange, Georgia, said in a phone interview.
“They worked in Maryland, and they went up to New York, and when they got up there it was, ‘out come the union papers.'”
“And our guys were like, ‘Hey, we’re not joining nothing. We came up to help, but if you don’t want it, that’s fine.’ So they turned around and drove all the way back here to Georgia.”
On Thursday evening WAFF-TV in Huntsville, Ala. reported that the devastated coastal town of Seaside Heights, N.J. turned away a crew from Decatur Utilities in Decatur, Ala., saying they couldn’t do any work there because they’re not union employees. (RELATED: New Jersey utility denies turning away nonunion electric crew volunteers from Alabama)
Decatur Utilities general manager Ray Hardin said Friday during a Fox Business Network broadcast that “we were presented with documents from IBEW that required our folks to affiliate with the union. And [that’s] something that we could not agree to. And it was our understanding, and still is, that that was a requirement of working in that area.”
On Friday TheDC spoke with a veteran electric utility worker from central Florida whose crew was kept idling for two days while his managers dealt with the union’s membership demands.
“It turns out there was a 300-page contract that the union controlling LIPA [the Long Island Power Authority] wanted everybody to sign first,” the utility worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, said. “We don’t have time for that. We’ve got guys ready to go. You need lawyers for this.”
“We’re not complaining about money,” the Floridian added. “You can pay us less. We don’t care. Just let us go up there.”
Cunningham added in an email that, “[t]o have to return without assisting, to see the mess that is up there, to hear the reports of how miserable it is for many residents, just sickens me.”
“When major storms happen down here in the South, everybody just bails in and starts helping,” Cunningham told TheDC. “There’s 42 electrical cooperatives here in Georgia, and we work alongside Georgia Power, which is all unionized. Most of the co-ops are not. When something happens here, everybody works together. There’s no sending people away.”
“We came up to help because we wanted to assist in getting the power back on in an area that could use our skills and expertise, not join the union,” he added via email.
Cunningham told TheDC that he is a former IBEW member himself, and that he hailed originally from Massachusetts, where that union is particularly strong.
But Diverse Power, he added, is “a non-union shop because our employees have chosen to be so.”
“We treat them well, have excellent wages and benefits which result in a nearly zero turnover in employees.”
Georgia Electric Membership Corporation president Paul Wood did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Diverse Power is one of that organization’s member utilities.
IBEW International President Ed Hill said in a statement Friday that “in times of crisis all help is welcome and we pull together with everyone to meet the needs of the public. We have communicated this to the office of New Jersey Governor Christie as well.”
Pressed for a reaction to the revelation that union-membership demands appear to have been made in writing in at least one case, IBEW spokesman Jim Spellane told TheDC in an email, “The only thing I can add is that the IBEW did not send the documents, nor did any of our locals.”
The IBEW’s website lists 20 locals in New Jersey, 48 in New York, 10 in Connecticut and 52 in Pennsylvania. It has 273 locals in the three union-definied “districts” that include states where Sandy’s impact was felt, also according to its website.
The IBEW didn’t immediately respond to a question about how it could be sure that none of those locals had insisted on union membership as a condition of helping restore power after the superstorm.